Searching for Silent Screen Ancestors – Those Places Thursday

Marguerite SnowDoes your family link back to the world of silent screen acting?  You could be in for a surprise!  During the early eras of film making, nearly 11,000 movies were made in places such as New York City, Chicago, California, and New Jersey, and if your ancestor was living in an area where films were made, there may be a possibility they were involved with the creation of cinema projects.  What’s the daunting part of this research?  According to the Library of Congress, nearly 75 percent of America’s silent films have been lost or destroyed, which is a relatively bleak number.  But there’s still hope everyone, as there are several amazing resources you should check out right away!

Without the credits, and other items found in each film, Early Cinema Collectionwhere can you begin your search?  You need to visit a fantastic site called Media History Digital Library, which has posted a prolific collection of trade and fan magazines from 1903 – 1963, all of which are searchable and available for download from Internet Archive.  Although each magazine or publication is listed individually, you have the option of searching by an ancestor’s name.  Good news, there are lots of pictures credited to actors and actresses alike!  If your ancestor was involved with the movie business, but their film has been lost or destroyed, take heart.  Try using Media History Digital Library’s magazine collection and and the Silent Era Presumed Lost Film List should help you find out more information on individual movies and their writers, creators, and support staff to aid your research.

patchwork girl of oz movieOn a happy note, let’s take a look at this ad for The Patchwork Girl of Oz found in Motion Picture Magazine in published 1914.  The advertisement describes the film, the film creator, the address of the film company, and provides a few photos of the actors.  By searching Internet Archive, I was able to find a copy of the film available for free, as well as a Wikipedia page listing the film credits, cast, and production notes.  The ad also describes two additional Oz Films available for theaters, The Magic Cloak of Oz and His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz.  These are great little films, and as Frank L. Baum wrote the screenplays for all three films, they are of great interest to anyone who loves the Wizard of Oz series.

Batman, Transformers, and Ferris Beuler maybe the best known films shot in Chicago today, but the city has a much older connection to the movie industry.  Before there was Hollywood, there was Essanay Studios.  Never heard of them?  Reaching back to the early film period of 1907-1918,  Essanay Studios in Chicago, the firm grew to one of the largest film companies in the world.  Charlie Chaplin started his career in 1915 at Essanay Studios and shot his first full feature film entitled His New Job.  After losing Chaplin to another studio, and facing a full onslaught of legal battles and money problems, the studio was sold and later merged to a new company called, V-L-S-E which would eventually absorbed by Warner Brothers.  You can find out more about the Essanay Studios archive on their website

As a complete side note, the Library of Congress American Memory project hosts a fantastic collection of early Edison Motion Pictures, and my favorite so far is a 25 second advertisement for Admiral Cigarettes.   I can’t be sure, but I think there’s a cameo by the Village People in the film.  What do you think?admiral cigarettes(Disclaimer: I am in no way advocating the use of cigarettes or smoking by including this in my blog.  I just happen to think this is a very entertaining advertisement from the days of early film.)

Do you have a silent screen ancestor?  I’d love to hear from you!  Post your stories and photos on our blog!

See You At The Library!


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Can’t Wait for ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Try BBC’s ‘Turn Back Time: The Family’ – Travel Tuesday

Quick show of hands, who’s NOT looking forward to TLC’s new season of Who Do You Think You Are?  By the way, thank you for the WDYTYA viewing party invitations.  I can’t wait to see the new season!

Before we overdose on a new season of Who Do You Think You Are, I want to draw your attention to a simply fabulous BBC series called Turn Back Time: The Family.  I stumbled across it on YouTube last month, and I absolutely adore it.  To my readers in BBC land, my apologies.  As BBC America has yet to feature this show in a timely fashion, I have discovered this show (and many others) several weeks, months, or years after their air date.

The premise of Turn Back Time is simple.  Three modern families live week by week through successive time periods, all within a single block of Victorian housing in Morecambe, England.  The catch: their living conditions and and social status is dependent upon those of their ancestors in the same time period.  Thinking of being sucked in to the world of your great-great grandparents, and seeing the world from their point of view for a week!  How could a genealogist not watch this show?

turn back time the family 1

The families selected for the program were for the most part unaware of their genealogical backgrounds, so it was a big reveal to see where each family would fit in the social and housing pecking order at the beginning of each episode.  Over a series of five weeks, the families progress from the Edwardian period with its strict adherence to social conventions to the dramatic social changes of the 1970s.  Each era brings opportunities and difficulties, both social and economical.  Each resident of Albert Road is expected to live within the social means and norms of their situation, and have three historians to lead them through each time period.

You can view the episodes for free on YouTube:

Turn Back Time: The Family (Edwardian)
Turn Back Time: The Family (Interwar)
Turn Back Time: The Family (Second World War)
Turn Back Time: The Family (1960s)
Turn Back Time: The Family (1970s)

You can read a wonderful blturn back time family goldingog post from Turn Back Time – The Family participant Ian Golding, and offers a great account of the show and the amount of effort it entails.  Ian and his wife Naomi adjusted their modern parenting style to each era’s parenting techniques, which was an eye opening experience to both the Golding parents and their young children.

I was also intrigued by an earlier program Turn Back Time – High Street, where modern shopkeeping families experience life on the high street (downtown shopping district) in various time periods, namely the Victorian era, Edwardian era, 1930s, Second World War, 1960s and 1970s.  This show has two focuses, immersing the shopkeepers in the period joys and pitfalls of their professions, while courting favor with modern shoppers.

You can view one Turn-Back-Time---The-High-001full series on Vimeo:  Turn Back Time – High Street (Edwardian Era) .  I haven’t been able to find additional full episodes of this series, so if anyone has a lead please let me know! Without giving away too many spoilers you can read My experience of Turn Back Time: The High Street by Karl Sergison.  Warning!  It contains spoilers!

How many of you would step into the living conditions and working professions of your ancestors?  Leave your comments and thoughts here on our blog!

As a quick side note, PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow is casting right now, and you can find information on the second season online.

See You At The Library!


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BillionGraves Field Trip for July 12 cancelled due to thunderstorms – will be rescheduled

The BillionGraves Fieldtrips to Oak Crest and Oak Hill Cemeteries in Downers Grove scheduled for today, Saturday, July 12, 2014, have been cancelled due to thunderstorm activity.  We will reschedule this event for a later date this autumn.  If you have any questions or concerns, please call the event organizer Debra at (231) 920-6313.

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Finding Family Clues in Digital Letters and Diaries – Follow Friday

Once upon a time, acquiring access to a personal correspondence collection required an in-person visit to a specialized library, state archive, or a national depository.  Diaries and Letters give a first person account of daily life, and divulge an individual’s circle of friends, chores, schedules, thoughts, and to various degrees – feelings.

This type of research has its pitfalls.  While many letters, diaries, and other personal correspondence have been digitized and record a sender and receiver, the genealogical hidden in each document are uncovered by personally reading each item carefully.  Understandably, this is a time intensive project for researchers, but the availability of these collections online make up for the time spent traveling to browse  items in person.

Let’s take a look at a few of the online archives which feature digital diaries and letters:

Internet Archive (

Sam Kimble DiaryThe personal diary of Sam Kimble, a resident of Manhattan, Kansas is a highly readable account of daily life on the turn of the century prairie.  Kimble describes the weather, crops, livestock, town life, local politics, as well as the tasks of building a home and attending to household matters.

Kimble even found time to paste a picture of his ideal finished home ‘Castle Kimble’ in his diary entry for Thursday, May 17, 1894


The diary of Caroline Belcher Abbott chronicles life in the area around Kennebec County, Maine from 1834-1859.  Some of her entries are very short, no more than one line about events that happened during the day.  Others are a few paragraphs, describing her visits to Boston, and the people, places and information she acquired during those trips. As an interesting note, the sabbath days are clearly marked and noted in her writings.

The Diary of Daniel Coker a Methodist Missionary at Fourah Bay, near Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa from April 21 to September 21 1821

daniel coker diaryThe diary pages are photocopied from the original document, but the the contents make for an engrossing read.  Coker documents fever outbreaks, prayer services, visits to individuals and families, and daily reflections of his missionary work.  The script is flowing and relatively easy to read, but due to the nature of the photocopy job, the side margins where Coker placed notes and additions are sadly garbled.


University of Iowa Digital Civil War Diaries

The Iowa Digital Library hosts a collection of 20 handwritten letters and diaries of Civil War veterans.  Spanning a period from 1862-1960, this collection offers large, readable images of original items.  The interface, which allows users to pan around a page or download each item to a computer.  One of the best features is the ‘Text’ tab, which allows you to read the page side by side with a typed transcription.  If you’re interested in solving a mystery, there are two diaries which are listed as ‘Author unknown’.  You can read them here:

American Travel Diary of an Unknown Englishman, 1864








California Civil War Diary of an Unknown Soldier, 1862-1863

Tuesday 26 Started at 5 AM in a dense fog. Lost the road going to far to the left went 10 miles out of the way & had to come back Capt pd (paid) Spaniard $2,50 to pilot us to right road went through the canon to Rancho Del Charro. & camped, Travailed 35 miles to day  Wednesday 27 Broke a box in one of the wagon hubs and  (Vertically, from bottom left:-)  Distance to day 21 miles. no good water

Auburn University in Alabama also has an excellent collection of digitized Civil War diaries.  Using the same interface as the University of Iowa’s digital library, Auburn’s collection also contains an unattributed Federal Soldier’s Diary (1862-1863).  According to the description, the  is dairy believed to have been written by a soldier of the 44th Massachusetts from December 11, 1862 to February 8, 1863.  The early pages of the diary include numbers of casualties, for the Battle of Kinton on Dec. 14, 1862, and an account of the solder’s wartime activities.

If you need help deciphering American handwriting, I recommend  Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry.  However, if you’re looking for an online tutorial in paleographic exercises in general, I also recommend The National Archives’ practical online tutorial on Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 – 1800, and Bringham Young University’s online Script Tutorials.

What online diary collections are you looking to find?  Share your thoughts and ideas in then comment section!

See you at the Library!


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BYO Smart Phone for our BillionGraves Field Trips! – Follow Friday

billiongravesgraphicBreak out your smart phone and join the Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Club for a series of summer BillionGraves Field Trips!  There are four BillionGraves Field Trips scheduled for June and July, 2014.  Each field trip is available for genealogists, family historians, and cemetery buffs of all experience levels.  Registration is free and each session will include handouts, hands-on training, and bottled water.  Participants should bring a smartphone or data-plan enabled tablet, weather appropriate accessories, and a good pair of sturdy shoes to each field trip.

On Saturday, June 14 our first set of field trips will be held at 9 am at Boardman Cemetery in Bolingbrook.  After a short break, the second field trip will be held at 1 pm at Alexander Cemetery in Romeoville.Alexander Cemetery

The second set of field trips will be held on Saturday, July 12 in Downers Grove.  The first fieldtrip will be held at 9 am at Oak Hill Cemetery.  After a short break, the second field trip will be held at 1 pm in the adjoining Oak Crest Cemetery.

If you are new to BillionGraves, you will want to attend our BillionGraves Orientation on Wednesday, July 9 at 7 pm at the Fountaindale Public Library.  The orientation will cover how to download the app, how to take photos, link photos together, delete photos, how to tackle difficult transcription issues, and how to upload photos at the end of the project. The program will also include a short cemetery transcription orientation as well.  Registration for the orientation is free and can be completed online or by calling the Fountaindale Public Library at (630) 685-4176.

You do not need to be a Genealogy Club member to join the BillionGraves Field Trips!  We would like to host additional field trips in the fall, and we would like to know what cemeteries you want to survey!  For more information call (630) 685-4201.

To learn more about the cemeteries on our field trip list, you can visit the following sites:

Boardman Cemetery –

Alexander Cemetery –

Oak Hill and Oak Crest Cemeteries –

Good Luck!


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Training to be a Census Sensei – Tuesday’s Tip

Step beyond the US Federal Census returns! On Wednesday, May 14 at 7 pm at the Fountaindale Public Library, Tina Beaird will show you how to use agricultural, manufacturing, school, state, territorial, other special censuses!  Learn how to locate, access, and glean information from these special records, which will provide unique and interesting information about your ancestors!tina

Learn how your ancestor’s taxes supported the school district, what type of crops were grown on their farms, and the cash value of a farm, livestock, machinery and business enterprises.  As many of these special censuses are not available on a federal level, Tina will introduce you to the repositories which house these records, as well as providing online resources to meet your research goals.  You won’t want to miss this program!  Doors open at 6:30 pm, and light refreshments will be included.




BillionGraves Field Trips – Break out your smart phone and join the FPLD Genealogy Club for a series of summer BillionGraves fieldtrips!  There are two BillionGraves Field Trips scheduled for Saturday, June 14, 2014.  The first field trip will be held at 9 am at Boardman Cemetery in Bolingbrook.  At 1 pm, a second field trip will be held at Alexander Cemetery in Romeoville.  You do not need to be a Genealogy Club member to join in on the project!  For more information call (630) 685-4201.

See You At The Library!



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Get Ready for Genealogy Day this Saturday May 3, 2014! – Wisdom Wednesday

Genealogy Day Graphic 2014Genealogy Day is this Saturday, and I hope you all are excited about spending the day with the Fountaindale Public Library!  Genealogy Day registration begins at 9 am, with the program commencing at 9:30 am.  Here’s a quick checklist of what you will need for Saturday, May 3, 2014:

Bring or Order your lunch – If you forget your lunch on the day of our program, you can place a lunch order at Brooks Cafe during morning registration.  Some food selections may be limited, so you’ll want to place your order before 9:30 am!

Bring a seat cushion –  You will be sitting for extended periods of time, so a little padding is advisable.  If you want to make a few new friends, bring extra seat cushions.

Clip Board – Due to space constraints, we will have audience style seating in the room.  We recommend bringing a clip board for writing copious notes.

Two Photos – Regardless of registration for photo consultation, we have some awesome scanning equipment available for you to use!  If you need help on an item, Anna from Studio 300 is offering digital photo restoration services as time allows.

Flash drive – Great for saving your new digital images from our scanning equipment.  In a pinch, we will have a few flash drives available, or you can purchase a snazzy Fountaindale Public Library flash drive from Anna for $8 during Genealogy Day.

Marsha Peterson-MaassBook List –jennifer holik Our two guest authors will have great books for sale which will please the folks on your gift list.  Jennifer Holik and guest speaker Marsha Peterson-Maass will be available during the lunch hour to meet you, sign books, and discuss their projects.

Library Card – We will have a great genealogy book selection available for checkout!  If you don’t have a Fountaindale library card, you can sign up at the information desk to be a reciprocal borrower, which allows you to checkout books from our library free of charge!

Heritage Hash –Heritage Hash Brooks Cafe is offering a delicious snack for genealogy day – Heritage Hash!  This tasty blend of raisins, sunflower seeds, pretzel balls, bagel chips, sesame sticks, coconut flakes, papaya, pineapple, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips will be served in a 3 oz bag for $2.75.  They will also have soda, candy, and other items available to purchase during our break periods.

If you are unable to attend Genealogy Day, please cancel your registration online or call us at (630) 685-4176.  There is a wait list for people to attend our event, so please let us know if you cannot attend.

I am at your service to assist with questions before, during, and after the program!  Please do not hesitate to let me know if you need anything!  You can contact me by phone at (630) 685-4201 or by e-mail at

See you on Saturday!


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